Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

All the Way
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Nether


Jack Willis and Bowman Wright
Photo by Stan Barouh
People who complain about the lack of civility in politics don't realize that the political process has always been a form of warfare. All the Way, Robert Schenkkan's crackling Tony Award-winning play now at Arena Stage in Washington, lays out the high stakes that faced Lyndon Baines Johnson (Jack Willis) in the first year of his presidency.

The play covers the period from November 22, 1963, when Vice President Johnson assumed the presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, through the 1964 election, when Johnson won the presidency on his own. It was a tense time, driven by domestic concerns about the civil rights movement and uncertainty about the U.S. role in Vietnam, and Johnson knows his views deserve to prevail. The problem is, his antagonists think the same thing.

Willis, who originated the role of LBJ at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Bryan Cranston earned a Tony for the Broadway production), dominates the proceedings as he must. A physically large man with an overpowering presence, he gives a magnetic performance, charming, cajoling, and twisting arms as he drives the Civil Rights Act to ensure Kennedy's legacy. He hides his fears and worries behind a fa├žade of resolve and almost poetic bursts of profanity.

The other members of the sizable cast are accomplished, but most of them stay in Willis' shadow. The notable exceptions are Bowman Wright, impassioned as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (a few seasons back, he played King in Arena's The Mountaintop); the attention-grabbing Cameron Folmar as George Wallace, the swaggering, bantam-size Alabama governor determined to stop the Civil Rights Act and maintain segregation; and Richmond Hoxie as the implacable FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.

Director Kyle Donnelly makes the most of the Fichandler Stage's in-the-round configuration with Kate Edmunds' scenic design, which places the action on a central circular platform with walkways leading to the four corner exits. In this way, actors—most of whom play numerous roles—can enter and exit unobtrusively or stand quietly watching the central action, allowing for a cinematic flow of action. Banks of television screens show news footage and follow the timeline of the action: for example, how many days until the election or the length of time of a filibuster.

Arena Stage
All the Way
April 1st - May 8th
By Robert Schenkkan
President Lyndon Baines Johnson: Jack Willis
Lady Bird Johnson and others: Susan Rome
Walter Jenkins and others: John Scherer
Lurleen Wallace and others: Adrienne Nelson
Hubert Humphrey and others: Richard Clodfelter
Richard Russell and others: Lawrence Redmond
J. Edgar Hoover and others: Richmond Hoxie
Robert McNamara and others: David Bishins
Martin Luther King Jr.: Bowman Wright
Ralph Abernathy and others: Craig Wallace
Stanley Levison and others: Tom Wiggin
Stokely Carmichael and others: JaBen Early
Cartha "Deke" DeLoach and others: Stephen F. Schmidt
Coretta Scott King and others: Shannon Dorsey
George Wallace and others: Cameron Folmar
Roy Wilkins and others: David Emerson Toney
Bob Moses and others: Desmond Bing
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
Fichandler Stage, Mead Center for American Theater
1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington, DC
Box office: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


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